Hot Yoga for Beginners

Tom Matlack started doing hot yoga in 2002. Here, he shares six helpful hints for newbies.

Nine years ago I was a burned-out, divorced venture capitalist with two kids and a pathetic love life. As a last-ditch effort at getting a life, I decided to try something that faintly reminded me of the workouts I did as a collegiate rower. It also reminded me of my mother, who has been a yogi for years (I could digress into deep Freudian theory here, but that would hardly be relaxing).

So I started doing hot yoga at a studio a couple blocks from my office. At first it felt uncomfortable and made me dizzy, and sometimes I did little else but go in and sweat while doing child’s pose. But from the very start I noticed unexpected changes.

I slept like a baby. Seriously, when I got home after doing hot yoga I had to get into bed early. The sleep was blissful. No nightmares, no clenched jaws, just pure sleep.

I felt more at ease with myself in my day-to-day interactions with people in my life. The people who always bothered me bothered me just a little less.

Kind of like a sweat lodge, the process of going into that hot oven and moving my body felt like cleansing in some deep way that left me lighter and freer than I had ever experienced before.

I realized that during the lunch hour class, my brain turned off. For once I wasn’t thinking about my deals, my kids, my ex-wife’s anger, or the women I wished I could date. I listened to my breath, in and out, and that was it.

I started practicing in February, 2002, and in June of that same year I met Elena. I am sure that there were many things that went into the significance of that event. I’m not prepared to give hot yoga all the credit. But it provided me with a foundation.

We were married that December and are coming up on nine years together.

Doing hot yoga can be very intimidating, depending on the exact form you are undertaking. So here are a few helpful hints to get you past the initial few classes so that you can reap the benefits. Who knows, maybe it will lead you to the woman or man of your dreams!

Next: The Best Way Not to Die

 

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.

Comments

  1. I feel like the Tin Man when I do yoga. Is there such a thing as WD40 for human joints? Heat definitely helps. But I still find Hot Yoga to be incredibly challenging.

  2. Started last year. Nearly died. Found my breath and now am trying to stretch out a body that won’t bend. Small victories only, for me. It’s a great way to relax and stay flexible – for someone who sits with a computer all day, this is key to growing old. I get terribly frustrated by my inability to limber up (hamstrings, lower back, hips) but I feel better, and know it’s a good thing for me.

    My big issue was overcoming being in a room full of sweaty, half naked people who might accidentally touch me.

  3. I started doing Bikram about a month ago, after having done other styles (ashtanga, vinyasa, etc.) for 6 or 7 years. I thought I was a pretty good yogi, but my first Bikram class exposed a lot of flaws in my practice. Because you stay in each pose for so long, you have to confront any deficiencies in your form, and the mirror in front of you gives you ample motivation to do the poses correctly.

    I’m only a month in, but I’m already impressed by the health benefits. Like Tom, I sleep more soundly. I’m calmer, even when dealing with people I used to find supremely irritating. And I’m remedying age-old bodily aches and pains that I thought I would just have to accept as part of getting older. I’m a big believer in it now, and I’m glad the GMP is giving hot yoga its due. Huzzah!

  4. Bikram is awesome for someone like me who is completely ADD because I’m too busy sweating and listening to rock and roll to get bored. The meditation aspect of yoga escapes me. My Bikram instructor isn’t into an that “third eye” business, either, so it’s all good.

  5. I tried Bikram yoga for the first time in January. I’ve been doing yoga for years and had always wanted to try it. But I HATED the class I took. I want to hear what you’re saying about trying it three times, but even aside from my limited discretionary-spending budget, I was so turned off by my first time that I really don’t see the appeal of trying it again. I don’t know if the studio and instructor (who I found VERY unpleasant – almost like a yoga drill instructor) are to blame, or if I would encounter the same no matter where I go.

    I do know that I didn’t hydrate myself properly before the class and that likely contributed to my discomfort (I find it really hard to drink large amounts of water, even over the course of a day. I’m just not that thirsty.). The instructor told us to breathe through our noses to prevent a “fight or flight” reaction, but I was just getting over a head cold and couldn’t comfortably breathe through my nose, especially in such a humid environment. I did feel “fight or flight” – I wanted desperately to leave before the 90 minutes were up (not allowed), and I left the class feeling much more stressed and frazzled than when I arrived. I don’t recall how I slept. I didn’t feel relaxed or purified or detoxed or whatever – I felt like a cruel joke had been played on me, the unsuspecting yogini.

    When it comes to exercise, I am a firm believer in knowing and respecting my limits. That class pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that I really have no motivation to go back. I like challenging myself, but this felt too extreme. My heart was pounding as if I was sprinting for 90 minutes straight, and even when I tried to rest (no child’s pose allowed in this class – we could rest standing, sitting upright or lying down in savasana) it would not slow down – that was really scary! I was also lightheaded and nauseous and felt very close to blacking out more than once, just to hear the instructor say that that was all normal and meant I was doing it right and just had to “push through” whatever that means. That runs contrary to EVERYTHING I’ve ever heard in a yoga class. I don’t have the willpower to “push through” and besides, I can’t see how pushing oneself to the point of nearly losing consciousness is good for one’s health.

    But is this a typical hot yoga experience? Or should I blame the studio and look elsewhere? All I really want is to do regular yoga in a hot room (preferably dimly lit with soft music – a much softer, less sterile environment than this room was) so I can stretch deeper and get deeper into my meditation, but seeing as I don’t have the luxury of an at-home sauna studio, I have to look to commercial studios and classes. I just want to know if what I am looking for even exists.

    • KKZ, my first hot/Bikram yoga experience was much like yours…overly heated room, drill sergeant-like instructor, people being pushed to do the extreme version of every pose (seriously, inflexible older inactive people being told that they HAD to lock their knees in some positions when it was clear that it was beyond their present abilities), stressful environment, etc. and I almost said “nope, not for me.” However, my sister is a dedicated Bikram goer and urged me to try different studios until I found one where the vibe felt good, and thankfully, I took her advice. The place I go to now is has two very dedicated owner/instructors (a married couple for whom their yoga studio is their dream) who take a tradition-based but holistic approach to hot yoga. The studio is hot but not overly hot (the first place where I had the bad experience prided themselves on cranking the heat way up), there are beginner classes starting with 60 minutes of actually teaching the poses and making adjustments for people with injuries, disabilities, or just the normal variations from human to human while encouraging students to push themselves while learning about their bodies and embracing yoga’s more spiritual side along with the physical (without too much woo or new agey stuff, which is honestly not my thing). There are also 75 min and 90 min classes at various levels so that a person new to yoga can gradually build their tolerance to the heat and get a good foundation to work from. It’s a genuinely unpretentious and welcoming place, not fancy but very soothing, and the focus is on bettering yourself, not on competition with the person next to you.

      Another yoga I really love is yin yoga…not done in a hot room, but involves getting into poses (mostly on the floor) meant to work on flexibility, so you gradually relax into it (using gravity as an aid) and stay there for longer periods of time (3-10 min) while focusing on breathing and meditation. I’m a pretty high energy Type A person who has a hard time sitting still, but I found this practice to be a great antidote to the rest of my routine…the time actually flies by and I let go of my physical, mental, and emotional burdens and leave feeling loose and calm and happy. :)

      I hope you can give hot yoga another go and find a good place…it really makes a difference!

      • I’ve done Yin yoga twice and I love it! Much more my style. I talked to the instructor about my Bikram experience and she told me how there’s a difference between “hot yoga” and “Bikram.” Bikram itself is a very military-style, intense and strict kind of yoga, hence my drill-sergeant instructor. But at the same studio that offers Yin, they also have regular Hot classes, which I tried for the first time this past July. I can’t say it was instant love, but I definitely didn’t hate it as much as I hated the Bikram experience. I’m not so in love with it that I’d do it regularly, but I could see myself doing it again every once in a while. The pace was much better, the instructor was friendly and charismatic, the temperature and environment was soothing (the Bikram room was small, too tightly packed, teal walls and fluorescent lights and mirrors, like doing yoga in a super-heated doctor’s waiting room), and the instructor provided music and gave us opportunities to stop for rest or a drink, or to not go into a more challenging variation of a pose if we didn’t want to…overall, much better than Bikram, if not my favorite kind. I’m glad I gave it another try.

  6. Some people do love it. Although it is definitely not for me, I know people who absolutely enjoy it. I am glad you stuck through it and I think your tips are great. Water water water is the key to survive the class.

  7. Loved your observations….would have liked to read more….story of my own conflicted love/hate relationship/addiction with hot yoga…Hot Yoga High: Endorphin Buzz or Ancient Rite…
    http://bodydivineyoga.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/burning-through-maya-my-hot-yoga-addiction/

  8. I started doing hot yoga a couple months ago. I went because I felt stressed and thought it might help, but as with all things I wanted the most extreme version of it. It turned out to be an incredible stretch and I walk out of classes feeling high as a kite.

    But I have to say that walking in there alone as a young man into a relatively small class with about 10-12 women of differing ages, the feeling that I was not welcome was palpable. They did not want me there and I was invading “their” space. A few women have been friendly towards me but most women still give me suspicious looks and move their mats away from me when I put mine down. And if they are doing a swan or frog in front of me, many will turn to face the back wall as if instead of staring at the ground they are accusing me of staring at their ass.

    But the funny part? Like everything else in my life I take it dead seriously and move through those poses better than almost any of them. My camel is unbelievable, my tree is tall and strong, my eagle is twisted tight and my crow is balanced and unshakable. I’m busy staring into the depths of my soul while those little princesses and soccer moms are stealing glances over at me (which our instructor chides them for).

    So in short, I love hot yoga but hate the way the women in my classes treat me. It’s obvious and embarassing and it looks like it’s intended that way.

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